Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Fool's Paradise

"A national survey of jobless workers by a pair of professors at Rutgers University shows just how traumatized the work force has become in this downturn. Two–thirds of respondents said that they had become depressed. More than half said it was the first time they had ever lost a job, and 80 percent said there was little or no chance that they would be able to get their jobs back when the economy improves.

"The 1,200 respondents were jobless at some point over the past year, and most — 894 — are still unemployed. More than half said that they had been forced to borrow money from friends or relatives, and a quarter have missed their mortgage or rent payments.

"The survey found that affluent, well–educated workers, who had traditionally been able to withstand a downturn in reasonably good shape, were being hit hard this time around."

Bob Herbert
New York Times

On Sunday, I wrote about Maureen Dowd's New York Times column that spoke of her grudging acknowledgement that racism still exists in America, sparked by Joe Wilson's now famous outburst during Barack Obama's speech to Congress.

I didn't approve of Wilson's outburst, as I wrote last week, but I haven't been the least bit surprised by the reaction from Dowd and others on the left. It reminds me of Claude Rains in "Casablanca."

I'm shocked — shocked! — to find that there is racism here!

As vehemently as they will deny it, the folks on the left have become pretty good at their own version of playing the race card. They've been trying to perfect it for years, and they've been practicing this particular form since it became clear that Obama was a legitimate contender for the Democratic nomination.

Simply put, someone is a racist, in their eyes, if that person asks questions about any of Obama's policy positions.

I'm not saying that justifies shouting "You lie!" during a presidential speech. In fact, given South Carolina's history and the mentality of many of its political leaders, I think it's probably a safe bet that racism plays a role in much of the opposition to Obama in that state.

But I honestly felt that Dowd went too far when she wrote, "[F]air or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!"

I didn't hear that unspoken word. I didn't even think of it until Dowd mentioned it. I did think, as I wrote last week, that Wilson had been discourteous. I defended his right — the same right every American has — to believe what he wanted to believe. But, if he felt absolutely compelled to express it, he picked an unacceptable time and place to do so.

And, if I had been in Wilson's shoes, I think I would have chosen a less confrontational way to express my objection than calling the president a liar.

But perhaps that isn't as out of line as it may seem, considering the current political climate.

Those on the left seem to believe that they are so obviously correct on every issue — perhaps because they believe (and, more importantly, many in the center and even some on the right also appeared to believe on Election Day) that George W. Bush's policies were so obviously proven to be wrong — that anyone who disagrees or has questions must be motivated by something else.

This prospect seems to be causing considerable angst among those who apparently believed that the election of a black president was proof beyond any doubt that racism had been overcome and that we were living in a post–racial society.


You know what this reminds me of?

This actually happened. It involved what is probably my favorite book in the world. But I know that a lot of people don't read much anymore so, if it makes it more relevant to you, as you read this, mentally substitute your favorite movie or your favorite TV show or your favorite CD. Something you love with all your heart.

My story involves the book "Advise and Consent," a Pulitzer Prize–winning political novel written by Allen Drury. My mother introduced me to it when I was a teenager. I was so taken with it that I went on to read the five sequels he wrote and about half a dozen additional books he authored as well.

Anyway, I had this friend, and I wanted to share this book with him. I know, not everyone likes political novels, but this guy had shown an interest in more contemporary works in that genre, and I thought this was something special. I thought he would appreciate it as much as I did, that it might be something that we could bond over.

To my great shock, he didn't care for it. There were a number of reasons why he didn't care for it. In hindsight, I appreciate his honesty. But, at the time, I admit, I was sad. I felt let down. In an odd kind of way, I felt rejected.

In most instances, I think, the initial reaction would be to take steps to protect yourself psychologically. You might say to yourself something like, "He doesn't know a good book when he reads one, after all!" But you reassure yourself that you have exquisite taste. And that makes you feel better. You are clearly right. And anyone who disagrees, to whatever extent, is clearly wrong.

The same thing, I think, is applicable to the attitude many people have about Obama. Some people just don't like him or what he stands for or what they think he's trying to change. As Americans, they are entitled to their opinion. You may think they are wrong, but they are entitled to be wrong.

But that won't suffice for people who have invested heavily of their emotions in the success of the Obama presidency. Their book has been rejected, the one they love with all their hearts. More than that. It's the greatest book ever written. A negative response is a rejection of not just Obama but also the relationship his supporters have with him.

Because what has been rejected means so much to them, they must find a way to explain the negative reaction. Is it enough to say that rejecting any of Obama's policies is evil or stupid? No. This transgression is so bad, such a betrayal, that the only way to explain it is to label it racism.

I guess it is the only way to explain why anyone couldn't love the president they love so much. They can't understand the beliefs or the fears that others have. Therefore, they must be racists. It makes Obama's supporters feel better.

But it doesn't make it so.

I have frequently criticized Obama for not doing more to encourage job creation. Because I have written this sort of thing many times, I have been accused of racism by some of my friends on the left. Well, today I noticed that Bob Herbert, a black columnist for the New York Times, complained that Obama "took a bit of a victory lap on Wall Street" yesterday, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers "implosion," and reminded him how much remains to be done.

"We're hurtin' and there ain't much healin' on the horizon," he wrote.

"It's eerie to me how little attention this crisis is receiving. The poor seem to be completely out of the picture. ... The recession may be ending for some. Tell that to the unemployed."

Now, if I had written what Herbert wrote, would I have been accused of racism? Probably. But, because Herbert is black, will he be given a pass? And, if he is, isn't that an example of reverse racism?

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